Health Watch -- Nursing through Illness

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Do the health benefits of breast-feeding continue even when a mother is ill?

Doctors encourage mothers to breast feed their infants because of all the health benefits. Breast-feeding provides immunity to illnesses, along with all the nutrients a growing baby needs to thrive. But what if a mother becomes ill? Should she continue to breast feed?

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that a cold, the flu or other viral infection shouldn't stop a mother from breast feeding. Although you would generally want to keep your child away from someone who's sick, in this case, it's okay.

Dr. Dorothy Sendlebach, a UT Southwestern pediatrician, says that an ill mother who breast feeds produces antibodies in her breast milk that are then passed on to the babies, protecting them from getting the same infection. You won't have to worry about passing your cold on to your child while you breast feed because breast feeding will give your child immunity to that cold.

Dr. Sendelbach says that breast feeding may even help a mother feel better - or, at least, keep from feeling worse. Women who stop nursing abruptly become engorged with milk, which can be painful and uncomfortable. It could be even more unpleasant if you're already feeling sick.

So, breast feeding has benefits for mother and baby, even if you've come down with a virus.


Feb. 2004